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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pre-US Open: Tournament Preview

Maybe it's a little dramatic, but the arrival of hurricane Irene almost seems appropriate considering the swirling chaos of this year's US Open draw. The top half features names like Wozniacki, Serena, Azarenka, Jankovic, Ivanovic and more, all of whom will be locked in a dogfight for the sole championship opportunity. The bottom half is a little more open, with questionable seeds like Zvonareva and Kvitova looking to validate their rankings while Maria Sharapova tries to cap off what has been a spectacular summer season. Should they falter, big hitter Sabine Lisicki could wreak havoc on the draw—that is, if she survives an early clash with Venus Williams.... All together it's another power struggle for the WTA's big stars, but someone has to win. Here's a look at the tennis storm hitting New York City.

First Quarter: 
Caroline Wozniacki sits at the very top of the draw, enjoying what might be her last few months as world no.1. If she wants to keep her ranking and prove me wrong (by all means, Caro, I would love that), she will have to settle into a rhythm quickly. She's on a straight path to either Hantuchova or Kuznetsova, the former of which knocked her out at Roland Garros and the latter being a former US Open champion. Hantuchova is the more likely adversary in my mind, considering Kuznetsova's growingly inconsistent play, but the Russian definitely has more fire power and would love a chance to rekindle her fire. Either way, I'm predicting the upset. Wozniacki's win in New Haven just isn't impressive enough to block out memories from her two stunning losses. The first quarter also hosts Andrea Petkovic, the hotshot German looking for her first big breakthrough. I imagine she will struggle but survive against the two-time grand slam semifinalist Zheng Jie, but will later fall to this year's Paris champion, Li Na. Any bets on Kaia Kanepi? Ed McGrogan of Tennis.Com calls her a dark horse, but I'm not convinced.

Quarterfinalists: Hantuchova v. Li

Possible Bracket Busters: Vesnina and Kanepi

Second Quarter:
The second quarter of the draw is easily the most terrifying and talented section of this year's tournament. What predictions can you really make when Azarenka, Serena,  Ivanovic, Jankovic, Pavlyuchenkova and Schiavone are all grouped together? The easy choice is Serena, and I'm jumping on that prediction trend willingly, but who's to say someone else doesn't have the flare to take on New York City? The likely third round match between Azarenka and Serena will be the blockbuster event of the tournament should it happen—the winner of which will surely surge to the finals on confidence alone. Don't count out the Serbians, though, both of whom have upped their level of play in recent months. Jankovic fell to Serena in the US Open championship only a few years ago, so a rematch with her in the quarterfinals would be dramatic to say the least, but don't expect Russia's rising star, Pavlyuchenkova, to let her squeeze by the third round too easily. Regardless of the results, this section should give fans the tennis they want.

Quarterfinalists: S. Williams v. Jankovic

Possible Bracket Buster: Jovanovski

Third Quarter: 
The top and bottom of the third section are headlined by Wimbledon finalists Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova, and wouldn't a rematch between those two be thrilling? Having dropped her level since winning in London, however, Kvitova will have to work hard to earn another crack at the Russian. She is due to face tricky Dulgheru in the first round and big serving Safarova in the third, either of whom could send the Czech packing. Sharapova, on the other hand, has been consistently successful since May, and should she keep errors at a minimum, is a serious contender for the title once again. Radwanska, however, will be looking to pick Sharapova's game apart and take advantage of her ailing serve should they meet in quarters. The silent killer in this section is Pironkova. She has a fairly tame draw, facing Peng Shuai for her first seeded match and word on the Chinese woman's health is questionable. Should she rise to the occasion, she may play Julia Goerges in the third round, and who knows how the German will play.

Quarterfinalists: Radwanska v. Sharapova

Possible Bracket Buster: Oudin (Can she author another Cinderella story?)

Fourth Quarter:
Bartoli and Zvonareva are the final section's highest seeds, but danger lurks elsewhere in the draw. Both Venus Williams and Sabine Lisicki will be looking to hack their way through unlucky seeded opponents, but unfortunately only one of them will have the chance to do so as they are due to face-off in the second round. Whoever prevails will likely face self-proclaimed pocket-rocket, Cibulkova, in the third and no.2 seed Zvonareva in the fourth. If the top ranked Russian wants to make the final for the second year in a row, she will need to play some of her best tennis. Bartoli, too, will need to be on her A-game as she works her way through names like Christina McHale and Maria Kirilenko (I'm predicting a McHale upset). Sam Stosur will also be looking to enforce herself, having made the Toronto finals and looking strong despite crumbling under Serena's power. She may take on Nadia Petrova in the third round and I expect the match to be tight. Lucky for Nadia, the rest of her draw seems rather doable.

Quarterfinalists: Petrova v. Lisicki

Possible Bracket Buster: McHale

* * *

Championship Prediction
We've all been wondering the same thing since we heard she was coming back in May: When will Serena Williams win the first grand slam of her return? My answer: this is it. Though she faces a strenuous draw, Serena Williams is a born champion and she didn't win two USOpen series titles just to come to New York City and lose. Since demolishing her competition in Stanford, Serena's engines have been firing full-blast and the momentum will carry her through the upcoming weeks. Having pulled out of Cincinnati, the 13-time grand slam champion will be well-rested and fully recovered (not that any of us really believed she was hurt when she withdrew) so fatigue shouldn't affect performance. Her biggest task may be defeating Victoria Azarenka in the third round, but after the 6-3 6-3 schooling she unleashed on the Belarusian two weeks ago, there's little one can say against Serena's chances at victory. If there is anything Serena struggles with at the US Open, it will be containing her emotions on championship point. It has been a long road of recovery for the American super star, so although she's hoisted the trophy in Flushing Meadows three times before, something tells me number four will be a little bit sweeter.

Final: S. Williams def. Lisicki

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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